Close Reading: Claude McKay's "If We Must Die"
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us through dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
This is a very powerful piece. Since the poem took place in the year 1919, a speculation of mine would be that this poem resonates the feeling of a conflict between whites and blacks because of the race riots that took place in the United States during this time period. The speaker of the poem cries out to his audience, or to his men at arms, to fight back against those that oppress them and are objective to killing them. McKay's poem evokes a strong and inspiring reaction. This is achieved through his rhyme and rhythm scheme, through alliteration as well as repetition in lines one and five. It seems as though he wants to be killed in a kind manner rather than being hung or terribly tortured cruelly. McKay strives for justice as he insists blacks to partake in the battle by stating, "O kinsmen!" Further reading indicates McKay's inspiration as well as courage to continue the quest for equality (Line 10). The tone of the poem clearly indicates a war between two races which is presumably whites and blacks. By realizing the rhyme, line structure and metaphor presentation in McKay's poem, the audience can realize that McKay wanted the black race to stand up and fight back with opposition. Referring back to the title of the poem, McKay seemed to strongly believe that if we must die, we will go out with a bang!